There can be many frustrations when it comes to making a planning application, from unanswered phone calls and unexpected requests to surprise decisions. But provided a business has the right adviser on board and a realistic view of their prospects, most shouldn’t encounter unreasonable hurdles with the planning system.
Where the economics of the scheme warrant it, instruct a suitably experienced person to advise on, put together and submit the planning application. But remember, just because someone has a property-related qualification does not mean that they understand planning policies, local government decision-making or that they know how to negotiate a planning application.
Generally recommended is hiring a planning consultant. They have done the same exams as planning officers in councils and have often worked in one, which can be a huge advantage when it comes to understanding the system and how to make things happen. Insist on written advice for the main issues and likelihood of the council granting permission for the scheme before taking them on board.
However, if you have to be your own planning consultant, don’t be daunted by the task. To succeed, you need to be terrier-like in your tenacity. Initially, position yourself on the right side of council officers who can lead you through the process as it applies to your scheme. Never expect someone to call you back though, and always ask for the their direct telephone numbers and emails, and send confirmatory emails recording important information.
Start the process by spending time talking to the case officer, as they’ll often give an initial view over the phone on potential problems. Also, spend a few hours on the council’s website before and after speaking with the officer to search for details on previous applications and committee reports about schemes which raise similar issues.
It’s vital not to leave beginning this dialogue with the council until after the application has been submitted.
Moreover, if the council you’re dealing with has a system of paid, pre-application advice, then do consider using the service. The fee varies according to the size of the scheme and usually covers a meeting with relevant senior officers who specialise in applicable areas such as transportation, conservation and housing guidelines. The fee should also include one or two pages of advice on your proposals.
From the paid advice, you’ll find out what the key issues are for your proposed development and you can then ask if or how the scheme could be re-jigged to overcome objections. Of course, there is no guarantee that the council will stick to the supplied views. However, a pre-application letter can be pretty useful ammunition if your plans are rejected and you launch an appeal.
Once the application has been lodged, keep in regular contact with the case officer and other council staff by checking for any new issues, objections or changes to the timetable. Also, consider approaching your ward councillors for support.
Council officers who have been delegated powers to deal with applications generally make planning decisions. For bigger applications, the planning committee will make the decision, taking into account an officer’s report. If the scheme is going before a committee, the report will be on the council’s website a week before the meeting. It contains a detailed assessment of your project and if you feel it’s not accurate or misses a positive point, then raise an objection before the decision is made.
If your scheme is refused, despite your strong involvement in the process, take the time to assess the reasons cited and consider seeking an independent view on the project. It may take some time and effort, but the planning process is far from a lottery.